Sermon; Easter 3A; Luke 24:13-35
Easter Day, the Day of Resurrection, was a busy day for Jesus. First, and most importantly, he was resurrected from the dead. All four gospels agree on this, and all four agree that it was very early on the first day of the week when this discovery/revelation was made known to the women who came to the tomb. From that basic agreement we are then given four different accounts of that day.
In Matthew, Jesus meets the eleven in Galilee on that same day and gives what we now call the Great Commission.
In the original ending of Mark, the women run away and say nothing to anyone. But in the longer ending of Mark, we find stories cobbled together from the other three gospels without a specific time stamp.
In John, Jesus appears in the locked room on that first day with the ten disciples and gives them John's version of the Great Commission. Jesus would appear the following week with Thomas present.
But it is in the Gospel of Luke where we have the most first-day appearance stories in all the gospels. First, Jesus appears on the road walking with two disciples as they travel to Emmaus (our gospel for today). After sharing a long conversation about recent events and a scriptural interpretation, he joins them for a meal and blesses the bread, after which he immediately disappears. He appeared to Simon at some point, and then probably disappeared. The first two disciples run back to Jerusalem to tell the gathered eleven that Jesus had appeared to them, when he suddenly appears to all assembled. I would imagine this whole appearing and reappearing thing took a lot of energy, so he asks for a piece of fish to eat. After eating he then leads the group out to Bethany and disappears for the final time as he ascended to heaven.
There's a lot of appearing and disappearing at the end of Luke to which we need to pay attention.
Although Easter Day has come, although sin, hell, and death have been vanquished, although we have been raised to new life with Christ, we are still living with the trauma of Good Friday. We are still living with the trauma that COVID19 has laid upon us. We still grieve the loss of what was and what will never be. In our loss and trauma we may be experiencing one or more of the five stages of grief that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
I should say here that these original five stages put forth by Kubler-Ross have been worked on, adapted, and modified over the years. One modification includes shock, at first, and testing, toward the end. Kubler-Ross has come out and said that these stages don't necessarily go in order. And in our weekly clergy meeting two weeks ago, the Episcopal chaplain at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, the Rev. Josh Rodriguez-Hobbs, pointed out that grief doesn't follow our neatly designed and sequential lists, but instead washes over us like ocean waves or swirling eddies.
I bring all this up because, even though it's Easter, even though Christ is risen, alleluia!, even though the tomb is empty, even though we celebrate 40 days of Christ with us, we are still experiencing grief. It is as if Christ were with us, and then he disappeared.
In that same clergy meeting, Fr. Rodriguez-Hobbs read a quote from theologian Paul Tillich:
The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.
We are living in highly anxious times. We are all experiencing doubts – about our finances, our homes, our health and safety, and maybe even our faith. We may look around and, like the disciples in today's gospel probably did, exclaim, “Where'd he go?!?”
We may feel as if God is hiding his face from us. We may ask, “Where did God disappear to during this world crisis?” It may be that we, like the psalmist, cry out, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me?”
There is no doubt we are being challenged at this particular time. In the midst of this challenge I want to leave you with two questions and a thought.
First, it's okay to lament our situation. It's okay to sit on the couch because you are too overwhelmed to do anything else. But when you have a minute, ask yourself, “How has God disappeared?” Luke records that Jesus disappeared multiple time on Easter Day. How has God disappeared from you?
Second, it's also okay to find joy in where we are. When you have a minute, ask yourself, “How has God appeared?” One of our parishioners has been posting uplifting thoughts about building a bicycle and her various plants. Several of my Facebook friends opt to post humorous things instead of serious things. Look for the finger prints of God in your life and give thanks.
In both of these questions we are seeking God. We seek the God who has disappeared, and we seek the God who has appeared. And when we understand that, we can reflect more deeply on that quote from Tillich: The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.
We may very well ask, “Where is God in all this?” God is with the patients and victims of COVID. God is with the families who can only communicate by phone. God is with those who suffer and those who care for the suffering.
The end of Luke is full of appearances and disappearances of our Lord. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were suffering from the trauma of Good Friday when they met someone who apparently did not understand what they were going through. Yet even in their grief they were able to show hospitality to one who seemed to be in need. They were suffering from the grief and trauma of Jesus disappearing (dying on the cross); but it was in the simple act of giving thanks for bread that Jesus appeared to them. The God who disappeared in the most anxious of times is also the God who appeared.
We are also experiencing those same feelings of grief and trauma as we suffer and struggle to understand, or even to just cope for the day. May we be gentle with each other and show hospitality to those who need it. As we continue to journey through this pandemic, may we be so rooted in God that we have the courage to be.
And may we look to make Jesus known in the simplest of acts, because even in these difficult times,
Christ is risen! Alleluia!